The first main storyline for the 2014 PGA Championship was answered on Wednesday when Tiger Woods announced he would play after sustaining a back injury last week. Now we can focus on what happens on the course with players teeing off for the first round on Thursday.
One of the best things about this golfing season is the parity we are seeing, especially in the Grand Slams. There hasn't been a player with multiple major wins in a season since Tiger won the British Open and PGA Championship in 2006.
That doesn't bode well for Bubba Watson, Martin Kaymer or Rory McIlroy this weekend, but eventually all streaks come to an end. We've got a look at the leaderboard for the first round from Valhalla and key storylines to watch as the weekend progresses.
Top Storylines to Watch
Tiger Woods' Health and Performance
Even though other players have overtaken Tiger on the golf totem pole, he's still the most popular and intriguing figure in the sport. If you believe in history and symmetry, ESPN Stats & Info reminds us that the 14-time major champion has had success at this course before:
Tiger Woods tees off at 8:35 AM ET in the PGA Champ. at Valhalla. He won the last major played there (2000 PGA).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 7, 2014
Of course, that feels like a lifetime ago when Tiger won here to capture his third Grand Slam title of 2000. He got off to a slow start in the first round with two bogeys on his first five holes, so it seems the weekend will not be filled with triumph.
The bigger question, assuming Tiger is able to make the cut, is if he will stick around for all four rounds. His back flared up when hitting an awkward shot during the second hole at last week's Bridgestone Invitational.
Who knows if it will happen again? That's the risk Tiger is taking by putting himself on the course while, by his own admission, he hasn't been able to do his normal agility workouts because of back surgery earlier this year.
Regardless of what the immediate future holds for Tiger, it will be fascinating to watch and analyze.
Rory McIlroy's Path of Destruction
It seems only fitting that we go from talking about Tiger to Rory McIlroy, who is starting to reach that rarefied air once occupied by the 14-time Grand Slam winner. The 25-year-old has won back-to-back events, including the British Open, leading up to the PGA Championship.
Not only is McIlroy winning, but he's making it look easy. The two-shot margin of victory at the British Open doesn't tell the whole story, as he entered the final round with a six shot lead and coasted in the final round with a 71.
McIlroy followed that up with a win at the Bridgestone Invitational that was more drama-filled. He shot 66 in each of the final two rounds to pass Sergio Garcia, who played well with a 67 and 71 in the last two rounds.
Now McIlroy is the hottest player on the planet and, as ESPN's John Buccigross showed on Twitter, is entering what has been his best major by score in his career:
Rory McIlroy Career by Major (to par) PGA -18 Masters +8 Open Champ. +15 U.S. Open +26— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) August 6, 2014
McIlroy can become the first player since, of course, Tiger in 2007-08 to win at least three straight PGA Tour events with a win this weekend. Given the role he is on right now, you can't put it past him.
The Rise of Sergio Garcia
What would be the best storyline for the 2014 PGA Championship?
It hasn't gained a lot of traction because he has yet to win, but Sergio Garcia is finally living up to the potential everyone saw in him 15 years ago at the PGA Championship when he had that run up the hill.
While McIlroy has won the last two PGA events, Garcia was the runner-up in those tournaments and held the lead entering Sunday at the Bridgestone Invitational. The loss last weekend was more about what McIlroy did than anything Garcia did wrong, so saying he can't close on Sunday doesn't work.
Garcia has been playing so well and seems to enjoy what he's doing a lot more than ever before, making it easier to root for him now than in the past. That's not an accident, as Jason Sobel of Golf Channel.com wrote about the transformation:
The reality is that Garcia has plenty to be curmudgeonly about. The first half of his career was shrouded in the Tiger Woods Era, the game’s biggest star piling up major trophies while its biggest enigma underwent various metamorphoses of maturity. The second half of his career appears set to be ensconced in the Rory McIlroy Era, of which Garcia has already gotten a strong whiff, finishing second to him at each of his last two events.
And yet, he appears comfortable in the knowledge that there remain situations beyond his control. The middle fingers and spitting and whining have been replaced by thoughtful contemplation.
This may not be Garcia's breakthrough Grand Slam, though it would be fitting given this is the event that put him on the map in 1999. Yet it doesn't matter if he rises or falls on the course because we know it won't be part of a bigger spiral that results in more headaches down the line.
Instead, Garcia can play four rounds of golf this weekend at Valhalla the best he possibly can and hope it's good enough to win. Sometimes all you need is that kind of simplistic viewpoint to find success.
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